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Opinion: Discovery Sport and the long-term ramifications of pandering to the crossover convergence

Wed, 03 Sep 2014

Having pored over the first pictures of the new Land Rover Discovery Sport and consumed the accompanying official literature, we’re left wondering why it shares so much of its design treatment with the Range Rover Evoque, while simultaneously removing the last vestiges of utility from the Discovery nameplate.
From its virtually indistinguishable grille and lamp graphics, over its tapered roofline to its bespoilered tail, it’s hard to describe it as anything other than a derivative of the Evoque. The difference between a Discovery and a Range Rover it would seem, is a body coloured C-pillar.

Clearly there’s nothing wrong with this when taken in isolation – the success of the Evoque speaks for itself, while the Discovery Sport appears handsome and utterly contemporary. But what does it say about the Land Rover brand that it takes its cues from a model so clearly conceived as a niche fashion car? The size of the D I S C O V E R Y lettering on the leading edge of the hood and the tailgate are presumably inversely proportional to the marketing team’s confidence that the buying public can tell the difference.
In an interview with Autocar, Land Rover design head Gerry McGovern states: “The Discovery Sport had to be bigger than a Freelander, but it also needed a sporty silhouette that disguised a cavernous interior.” But why does Land Rover, of all brands, need to convey ‘sportiness’? Surely if any brand should be strong enough to resist the marketing demand for this terrible, faux dynamism – in the low, wide and curvy sense – it’s Land Rover. Why the desire to disguise a product’s abilities and features? And what does the 'Sport' in Discovery Sport actually mean?!
There appears to be an allergy to cars that communicate any sense of utility or off-road ability. It’s not just Land Rover either – compare the latest versions of the Jeep Cherokee, Nissan X-Trail or Kia Sorento to their predecessors and you’ll note a seismic shift from traditional, upright SUVs to lower, more car-like vehicles with curvaceous rooflines blended into their lower bodies, their surfaces softened in a mass emasculation. Meanwhile what were once humble family hatchbacks and MPVs have begun sprouting wheel arch extensions and ground clearance. The success of crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Evoque has created migration towards a space that is in danger of saturation before long.
From a short-term sales perspective, positioning a car in this space makes sense. However, when you’re dealing with a brand that has an unbroken lineage such as Land Rover's, there’s a far broader picture to consider. Once this has been broken, you are no longer the brand that has always, and will always, place its design emphasis on capability and functionality above frivolous styling trends.
This isn’t a bemoaning of change, it’s a regret that the core values of a great brand are in danger of being abandoned.

By Owen Ready